A paper BART ticket is discarded on the ground by fare gates at Powell Street BART station on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

BART study: Ending paper tickets would ‘disproportionately’ impact low-income riders, people of color

When BART eventually eliminates its magnetic-stripe paper tickets from use, it will be low-income train riders who will bear the brunt of the change, for good or ill.

Those are among the findings of an equity analysis performed by BART’s Office of Civil Rights, as agency leadership seeks to ensure no one is left behind when they eventually ditch paper tickets.

Additional data in that analysis requested by BART Board member Janie Li, who represents San Francisco’s West Side, also shows BART riders who use paper tickets are more likely to be young, more likely to be black or brown, and more likely not to own a smartphone.

“What this tells me is the current version of Clipper is less accessible, and less well used, by those populations,” BART Board member Janice Li, who represents San Francisco’s West Side, told the board Thursday.

When BART finally abandons paper tickets, she said, “we must think about who is left behind.”

BART has a stated goal to phase out its paper tickets this year. The agency stopped selling paper tickets at its 19th Street Oakland Station in August last year, then followed with Embarcadero Station, Powell Street Station, and Downtown Berkeley Station through the end of September. Monthly Clipper usage on BART is up to 91 percent systemwide as of August 2019, according to the agency.

It’s all part of an effort to shift transit riders in the Bay Area toward a more seamless system, as the plastic, computer-chipped Clipper cards can be read by machinery aboard Muni, Golden Gate Transit, and other transit systems that connect to BART.

There are three types of paper tickets that will be phased out: Blue magnetic-stripe paper tickets, which most BART riders use, green magnetic-stripe tickets sold at a discount for seniors, and red magnetic-strike tickets sold at a discount to youth and people with disabilities.

The BART Office of Civil Rights concluded from a survey 486 respondents who pay regular BART fares that low-income riders, but not people from ethnic minority groups, would be disproportionately impacted by BART ending paper ticket sales.

That analysis also came with various solutions to mitigate those impacts, including providing ongoing promotional events to distribute free Clipper cards, distributing free Clipper cards through 92 community-based organizations located in or near low-income communities, and implementing a recently approved means-based fare discount pilot program, which is tentatively scheduled to start in Spring 2020.

Tourists and other infrequent riders may also have an easier time navigating BART through an upcoming mobile phone app, BART staff said.

But the BART Board of Directors — in perhaps a rare showing of unanimity across urban and suburban county lines — all showed concern for exactly who may be hurt when BART moves toward its all-Clipper future. About 64.5 percent of BART riders are non-white ethnic minorities, according to the agency. But older riders, and riders who live out in the suburbs with less access to locations where Clipper can be purchased, also concerned the directors.

BART Board member Debora Allen, who represents Contra Costa County, was particularly concerned that seniors and families have access to discounted BART Clipper cards.

“I got a phone call from someone who said, ‘I’m 72-years-old, I want to take my grandkids to San Francisco. How do I get my discount Clipper cards?’” Allen said. But when she researched it, this Concord-based caller would have had to travel to Oakland to obtain those discounted Clipper cards. There are some other locations throughout the Bay Area, however, her point centered around more access broadly.

“It’s incredibly difficult for people in the suburbs to get their discount cards for their children,” Allen said, and suggested BART find more locations within each BART district, along its system, to provide opportunities to purchase discounted passes.

While the analysis by the BART Office of Civil Rights did not conclude ethnic minorities would be hurt by moving to an all-Clipper system, Li pushed back against those findings, citing specific data she obtained from a BART 2018 Customer Satisfaction Survey.

That survey showed 23 percent of BART riders not using Clipper for a trip were under 24-years-old, versus just 14 percent of Clipper users of the same age. And while 9 percent and 15 percent of Clipper-using BART riders were black or Hispanic/Latino, respectively, 16 and 24 percent of paper ticket users were black or Hispanic/Latino.

And 6 percent of paper ticket users did not own a smartphone, whereas only 3 percent of Clipper users do not own a smartphone, according to BART.

Li said it was incumbent on BART staff, and the board, to better research just exactly who still uses paper tickets to ride BART, and why. When questioned, BART staff said they would seek those answers in a forthcoming survey.

“Before we move forward” with ending paper tickets, Li said, “this board needs to understand why on Earth people who aren’t using Clipper, aren’t using Clipper,” she said.

joe@sfexaminer.com

Note: BART provided updated numbers to suggest Clipper usage is up to 91 percent usage systemwide.

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